Arizona Holiday … Day 2 … Tombstone Diary: The Bird Cage Theatre

21 Apr

The Bird Cage Theatre / Tombstone

Old Bird Cage

The Bird Cage Theatre was opened on December 26, 1881, by William “Billy” Hutchinson and his wife Lottie. Its name apparently referred to the fourteen “cages” or boxes that were situated on two balconies on either side of the main central hall. These boxes, also referred to as “cribs”, had drapes that could be drawn while prostitutes entertained their clients. The main hall contained a stage and orchestra pit at one end where live shows were performed.

The Bird Cage Theatre operated continuously – twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year – for the next eight years. It gained a reputation as one of the wildest places in the country, prompting The New York Times to report in 1882 that “the Bird Cage Theatre is the wildest, wickedest night spot between Basin Street and the Barbary Coast”. More than 120 bullet holes are evident throughout the building.

Aside from Lillian Russell, many other famous entertainers of the day were alleged to have performed there over the years, including Eddie Foy, Sr., Lotta Crabtree and Lillie Langtry. In 1882, Fatima allegedly performed her belly-dancing routine at the Bird Cage Theatre.

inside the bird cage 2

inside the bird cage 3

inside the bird cage 4

The basement poker room is said to be the site of the longest-running poker game in history. Played continuously twenty-four hours a day for eight years, five months, and three days, legend has it that as much as $10,000,000 changed hands during the marathon game, with the house retaining 10 percent. Some of the participants were Doc Holliday, Bat Masterson, Diamond Jim Brady, and George Hearst.

inside the bird cage 5

inside the bird cage 6

When ground water began seeping into the mines in the late 1880s the town went bust, the Bird Cage Theatre along with it. The poker game ended and the building was sealed up in 1889.

4 Responses to “Arizona Holiday … Day 2 … Tombstone Diary: The Bird Cage Theatre”

  1. Marilyn Armstrong April 22, 2015 at 12:48 pm #

    Cool. Anything playing this week? You must be having a blast. I’m enjoying it vicariously.

  2. jcalberta April 22, 2015 at 2:44 pm #

    I’ll see if I can get some music …

    If I could just find my flux capacitor.
    And my DeLorean.

  3. Mike July 4, 2018 at 9:43 am #

    Unfortunately much of this is not true. Belly dancing wasn’t introduced to the United States until the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. The “Fatima” painting hanging in the Bird Cage is a reproduction by a Tombstone man named M. Viccari who copied Henry Moore’s “A Dream at the Alhambra”. The scene depicted is found inside the Alhambra of Granada, Spain.

    The Bird Cage poker game is another fable as the town council of Tombstone passed licensing code months before the Bird Cage opened that required a license and payment for business that conducted gambling. City records show no license ever being issued to the Bird Cage, something that surely would have happened given the high stakes nature of this myth. Secondly Bat Masterson left Tombstone in April of 1881 for Dodge City and did not return. Since the Bird Cage opened late December of 81, it would be impossible for him to have played poker there.

    The list goes on and on for so much of the falsified stories they promote. Unfortunately the Bird Cage being marketable since tourism became a “thing” in Tombstone in the late 19teens and 20s, it proves where there is money to be made, there are lies to be told. Much of these stories have been birthed within the last 30 years.

    • jcalberta July 4, 2018 at 10:15 am #

      Thank you for that information. Yes, it’s a certainty that fact and fiction are generously intermingled in Tomestone – and throughout the West. Yet it also been my experience the Truth is indeed ‘stranger than fiction’. The Birdcage is still an interesting place – and I surely do believe there are some residents there who passed this world some time ago.
      One thing I did feel about all the exhibits was that much of this should properly assessed and taken care of as historical artifacts. I believe these are important materials and this is an important piece of Americana which could all lost or ruined. And it might also serve to weed out the Tourist myths and hokum from known facts. Much has already been lost already.

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